Yowling their disapproval

Yowling their disapproval

The flier was distributed at the recently-concluded Singapore Night Festival urging people to "kill stray cats".

It was circulated as part of a performance-exhibition against evil acts by homegrown art collective Vertical Submarine.

But cat lovers seized upon only the cat poster and circulated images of it online, angering everyone from netizens to animal rights groups like The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) and the Cat Welfare Society (CWS).

The CWS took to its Facebook page on Sunday, urging the National Heritage Board to "monitor the content of its future inclusions". But it has since emerged that the critics had jumped the gun.

Vertical Submarine, who are known to inject doses of dark humour and satire in their works, was making a point against animal abuse.

The collective - formed in 2003 by Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts graduates Fiona Koh, Justin Loke and Joshua Yang - defended its exhibition at Artspace@222 gallery at Queen Street. The theme of the exhibition, the spokesman added, was to explore "evilness from animal abuse to adultery through the use of satire".

In an e-mail interview with The New Paper yesterday, a spokesman for the collective said the flier was one among a series conveying intentionally-distressing and morally-questionable messages. "These were not distributed to the public for the purpose of advocacy, but scattered as part of the performance under the over-arching theme.

"We wished that the individuals and organisations who had shared the flier online had taken time to understand the context of the entire exhibition before jumping to conclusions. "We had intentionally included disclaimers on the fliers to try and prevent them from being misunderstood, or read literally, instead of as part of the broader exhibition.

"That said, we are glad that the Cat Welfare Society and SPCA have acknowledged our clarification of the intent of our work and shared it with their supporters," added the spokesman. CWS has since apologised for presenting the flier without the context of the exhibition.

On its Facebook page yesterday, CWS said its presentation of the information made it seem like the flier was distributed without the context of the exhibition.

It reacted the way it did because the flier hit a "raw nerve" as it came out at a time when there are more cat abuse cases, CWS added.

The society's chief executive, Ms Joanne Ng, 41, told TNP yesterday that a member of the public picked up a copy of the flier on Friday but did not mention any disclaimer on the image.


The netizen then posted the picture on CWS' Facebook on Sunday. Added Ms Ng: "For future public performances of such context, it will be good to provide a disclaimer clearly to indicate it is part of an art performance."

But Vertical Submarine maintained that the flier used in its performance was a device used in just one segment of the artwork. The collective added that it considers the killing of stray cats to be a terrible crime.

Artist Lina Adam, who attended the Vertical Submarine exhibition over the weekend, said: "It is unfortunate that a very small part of a bigger art experience has been taken out of context.

"As users of social media, I think, we have the responsibility of looking at the bigger picture and to find out the intention of the artist. Distributing the image without context may arouse emotions for the wrong reasons," added the 42-year-old. Meanwhile, the Singapore Kindness Movement - which supported the exhibition - has called for calm.

In a Facebook post made yesterday, it said the controversy "is the result of a small piece of the exhibition being posted and shared online, without the benefit of the context of the entire exhibition".

"We would like to encourage everyone to spend a little time to reflect upon the issue, and the context, before commenting. In particular, we ask that we all refrain from personally attacking the participating artists, which is not a constructive means of voicing disapproval of the exhibition," it said.

This article was first published on September 02, 2014.
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